“Today, I feel irreparable.”
I said that last week, in the midst of a rather serious email exchange. The context doesn’t matter, but it was truly, sincerely, what I felt at that exact moment when I wrote it.
I suppose we all have moments like that, whether we admit to them or not.
Author extraordinaire Anne Frasier recently posed the question, are authors broken? on her blog. Yesterday, Anne Frasier’s blog post titled Broken, part two hit me on a new level.
Something I’d never thought about before. How much death had shaped my life.
Now, I could launch into a discussion about Piaget’s theory of conservation and concrete operations, but I'd just be indulging myself with one of my side interests. Suffice it to say that at the point in my life when cause and effect was coming into focus, there were some significant deaths.
The closest thing I had to grandparent relationships were with my Uncle Ab and Aunt Elma Ruttan. In fact, my Great Uncle and Great Aunt, as Ab was my grandfather, Jack Ruttan’s, brother. Uncle Ab and Aunt Elma lived reasonably close to us. I remember staying there as a child. If you go to my website (the new design will be in place soon, btw) on the bio page there are photos of me as a child, and one is of me reading Bambi with Uncle Ab at his house.
Uncle Ab died when I was pretty young. But not so young that I don’t remember him.
We used to have sleepovers there. And Aunt Elma said that one morning, Ab got up, came to the kitchen, sat down and said, “I’m going” and died.
My Uncle Carl and Aunt Elma Stahls also lived in our town. This would, again, be Great Uncle and Great Aunt, because Elma was the sister of Uncle Ab and Grandpa Jack. When I was young, Uncle Carl engraved a silver bracelet and brooch for me, and a matching set for my sister. I still have them.
My parents used to talk about how Uncle Carl was going to smoke himself to death. So, being smart, caring kids, my sister and I stole his cigarettes and hid them so that he couldn’t do that. Boy, did we get in trouble.
Uncle Carl got lung cancer and we watched that tall, strong man wither away and, eventually, die.
I was ten when I had my most serious brush with death. Oh, I’ve mentioned being hit by a car when I was eight (well, okay, my bike was hit by the car). Landed striking my head on something, requiring stitches. Then, just shy of my ninth birthday I partially severed my right foot and lost a lot of blood.
But it was when I was ten that I really thought I was going to die.
We were camping, and my sister, a friend and I had gone to the falls. We were lying on the rocks on the edge, letting the water cool us. I should dig up a picture of these falls, if I have one. It’s hard to explain. There was the bigger drop at the top, where there was a bridge that connected one bank of the river to the other. Then, a lot of rocks that the water rushed over.
I got pulled into what I’ll call a whirlpool, being sucked straight down. I could see through the water up to the trees that hung over the river from one side. The sky was more grey than blue, at least in my memory.
I almost climbed out on the far side of the river, but wasn’t strong enough. I was pulled back in, this time over a ridge of rock and down, toward the point where the river widened and swept away at a brisk current.
This was when I was pulled out. A group of people on the shore formed a lifeline, and reached in to the water to rescue me.
That’s the facts. Doesn’t quite convey the emotion of the experience.
I think, like most kids, I was scared of death. My experiences didn’t make me want to walk in cemeteries or hang out in morgues. Rather, I obsessed about it in my head, silently. I let fear paralyze me and govern some of my choices. While others were doing reckless, stupid things as a teenager, I was constantly aware of the potential outcome of their bad choices. The idea of going on benders, trying drugs… That was jumping back into the river, for me. I suppose the most critical impact it had was in making me aware of the fact that I wasn’t immortal, as so many teenagers think they are.
I’ve had a few other incidents. Some day, I should tell you our sailing horror story and how we rescued a guy coming in off English Bay, past Jericho Beach (this is Vancouver, for those of you who don’t know the waters there). White-knuckled as I was by the time we docked, I’ll never forget the people who said they’d never risk going out on a day like that, ever.
Well, we had no choice. We’d been moored off the islands for a few days when the winds picked up and we had to come in.
But when it comes to near death, the incident that always jumps to mind is the one that happened in the Sahara. Kevin and I were in a vehicle, part of a group of vehicles. We’d spent the morning watching the sun rise over the Sahara,
then riding camels. Then we were one our way north, toward the border with Algeria. Guess this is where I should mention we were in Tunisia, huh?
Our drivers decided to go over some sand dunes. This wasn’t part of the plan, Kevin and I were on jump seats without seatbelts, there was a couple in their 70s in the vehicle, one of whom had a heart condition. The driver went up over a large pile of sand and sailed over the top, too fast to see the steep incline. We landed on the nose of the vehicle, the whole world turning dark as the sand enveloped us.
We did the audio check. “Are you okay? Are you okay?” Everyone responded at first, and I was reaching forward to help the elderly woman, pulling her back off the floor, when I turned to see Kevin.
Who wasn’t okay.
He gets mad at me if I talk about it, but he was having a seizure. Then he stopped breathing.
I have never in my life been so scared.
It’s one thing to face death yourself. I’m not saying it’s pleasant, but you own your experience. I found it far more difficult to be powerless in that situation, overcome with the fear that my husband was dead.
Why he started breathing again is anyone’s guess. He did. That’s all that matters.
Funny how things can change you. Kevin’s former military, he’s a qualified social worker, he works in the business world.
And chooses to take risks by being with the fire department.
Sometimes, when we look death in the eye we recoil and try to protect ourselves, as I did for a number of years as a teen. I’d say I started getting brave at 18, when I went to Europe, watched the wall come down, stepped out into the world. Flew in an ultralight –wow. Considering I was afraid of flying, that was a cool experience. A liberating experience.
I am not fearless. In fact, I think in what I write, it’s far more about people coming to terms with their fears than anything. Well, in the books, anyway. Now I love to fly. I have sailed off the coast of Vancouver and around some of the Islands of Indonesia. I’ve snorkeled.
I would still say that drowning is a fear of mine. I have faced my fear of the water enough to do many things I once thought I’d never do.
I just won’t swim alone.
Maybe not irreparable after all. Maybe just on a slower road to mending with some things than others.
But I’m still afraid of spiders.
So fess up. Any lingering fears, nightmare experiences? And you should really read Anne’s post. She said in the comments not to feel sorry for her, and that’s something I relate to as well. No matter how challenging one’s life is, it may explain some things but it doesn’t excuse things. It just is.
And in a way, perhaps it’s better to face tough road when you’re younger. It makes everything you do experience something you cherish, instead of something you take for granted.
I got some great jokes (or things to make me smile) yesterday and will share a few. This one, courtesy of Norby
This one is classic. Thanks Kim!
Dear Dogs and Cats,
The dishes with the paw print are yours and contain your food. The other dishes are mine and contain my food. Please note, placing a paw print in the middle of my plate and food does not stake a claim for it becoming your food and dish, nor do I find that aesthetically pleasing in the slightest.
The stairway was not designed by NASCAR and is not a racetrack. Beating me to the bottom is not the object. Tripping me doesn't help because I fall faster than you can run.
I cannot buy anything bigger than a king-sized bed. I am very sorry about this. Do not think I will continue sleeping on the couch to ensure your comfort. Dogs and cats can actually curl up in a ball when they sleep. It is not necessary to sleep perpendicular to each other stretched out to the fullest extent possible. I also know that sticking tails straight out and having tongues hanging out the other end to maximize space is nothing but sarcasm.
For the last time, there is not a secret exit from the bathroom. If by some miracle I beat you there and manage to get the door shut, it is not necessary to claw, whine, meow, try to turn the knob, or get your paw under the edge and try to pull the door open. I must exit through the same door I entered.
I have been using the bathroom for years--canine or feline attendance is not necessary.
The proper order is kiss me, then go smell the other dog or cat's butt. I cannot stress this enough!
To pacify you my dear pets, I have posted the following message on our front door:
Rules for Non-Pet Owners Who Visit and Like to Complain About Our Pets:
1. They live here. You don't.
2. If you don't want hair on your clothes, stay off the furniture.
(That's why they call it "fur"niture ..)
3. I like my pets a lot better than I like most people.
4. To you, it's an animal. To me, he/she is an adopted son/daughter who is short, hairy, walks on all fours, and does not speak clearly.
Remember: Dogs and cats are better than kids because they: eat less, don't ask for money all the time, are easier to train, usually come when called, never drive your car, don't hang out with drug-using friends, don't smoke or drink, don't worry about having to buy the latest fashions, don't wear your clothes, don't need a gazillion dollars for college, and if they get pregnant, you can sell their children!!!
Isn't Tunisia beautiful? I'm so glad we went there.
FYI, I just finished Anne Frasier's new book, Pale Immortal. Full review in the next Spinetingler, but what a great read. Get it on your tbp list!
Okay, hmmmm. Another trivia question...
Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and tell me... Oh, I'm going to make this tough.
What is the name of The Bearded Wonderboy?
Clue: He is also the artist responsible for Skeleton Bob!
Tomorrow I will be posting on BSP here and on the Killer Year blog. I've got reader input and you won't want to miss this. If you have any thoughts on the topic, one last day today to email me with your horror stories of BSP you don't like, or BSP that worked for you...